Field Tests Amplify Opposition to High-Stakes Student Testing

By Genevieve Belmaker, Epoch Times
May 21, 2013 Updated: May 21, 2013

NEW YORK—New York City students already face rigorous testing, and now, come the first week of June, schools will administer additional field testing.

In New York City alone, 1,055 public and charter schools are expected to administer spring elementary and intermediate field tests in English language arts (ELA), math, or science, according to the New York State Department of Education (NYSDE).

The NYSDE says field testing is a key part of test development in schools throughout New York state. It ensures the validity and reliability of the New York State Testing Program, and alignment with federally mandated Common Core standards.

Field tests are similar to state tests, except that there is no formal opt-out provision or permissions process. It’s essentially a way for the state to test out questions and find out how valid, unbiased, and reliable they are before students take the real thing. 

Some parents and teachers are unhappy about the prospect of children being tested for the sake of perfecting future tests.

“We oppose an over-emphasis on tests and misuse of the results for purposes they were never intended to serve,” stated parent-teacher organization Change the Stakes coalition on its website. “We believe high-stakes testing must be replaced by valid forms of student, teacher, and school assessment.”

“There has been concern from parents about the testing and that you’re kind of mining kids for data,” said Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. “We’ve seen a lot of different concerns popping up around the country and the state, just concerns with the standards in general.”

Parents do have the choice to have their children opt out of the tests, according to the advocacy group Western New Yorkers for Public Education. An incomplete score of 999 would be entered for the child. For some schools though, failure to achieve a participation rate of at least 95 percent could impact Title I funding.

States Struggle With Implementation

Budgets are also a concern as states struggle with their finances. All but five of the states have committed to Common Core standards in ELA and mathematics.

Common Core is a new set of education standards that the federal government is asking states to comply with, sometimes at the risk of losing federal funding. Race to the Top, Title I, and No Child Left Behind funding have all been tied to states’ adoption of the standards.

According to the Pioneer Institute, a public policy research organization, the cost of implementing Common Core standards over a period of seven years is an estimated $15.8 billion.

In Indiana, they have halted implementation of the standards, while looking at the costs and trying to get a better idea of what implementing the standards would involve.

“There’s a general uneasiness that states are starting to express as implementation rolls forward,” said Sheffield.

Sheffield said that in New York in particular, a lot of the pushback was over the timing with the rollout of the tests before the curriculum had been fully implemented, and before teachers had been trained in the Common Core curriculum.

“It’s basically a federal overreach. States aren’t going to have the autonomy like they’ve had in the past,” said Sheffield, adding that different states have their own issues they’re dealing with, and common standards make it harder to have flexibility.

Among New York City government officials, Speaker Christine Quinn has been a harsh critic of field tests and the administering organization, Pearson.

“We have become obsessed with standardized testing in New York City, and there is probably no clearer example of it than field testing,” said Quinn on Monday during a press event at City Hall. 

“We need to stop pulling children out of a learning environment to have them be Pearson’s guinea pigs and we’re going to do everything we can to get the changes we need on the state to put an end to field testing ASAP.”

But the NYSDE argues that Pearson ensures that assessments are reliable and valid for their intended purposes, including the provision of useful information to teachers, students, and their families to help improve instruction and student learning.

Pearson, who administers the tests, said that it’s important for states to know that questions, prompts, reading passages, and other test elements are worth being used.

“They’re done to help ensure questions used in upcoming standardized tests that count are fair for all students, are of high quality, and rigorous enough to comply with professional standards,” said Susan Aspey, with Pearson’s Corporate Communications Office.